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4. Reason for Teaching the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta

What was the reason behind the Lord Buddha's preaching of the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta? In order to understand this point, we have to go back to the day of Enlightenment of the Lord Buddha. If you look at the history of that time, you will find that having attained Enlightenment, the Buddha did not get up from where he was sitting. He remained where he was in order to "ingest the bliss that had come from Enlightenment". Traditionally speaking, the long period of time the Buddha spent sitting, after his Enlightenment, is supposed to be because the Buddha felt so proud or exalted by what he had managed to achieve - like a man who has finished a task of hard work and can sit back with a smug grin on his face! However, in the eyes of meditators, we understand that the Buddha couldn't immediately arise from His seat of enlightenment because He must go further and further through the centre in order to consider the Dhamma in even greater subtlety. The Buddha was later to preach in the Si.msapa forest that there were more leaves in the forest than he held in the palm of his hand. The 84,000 units of Dhamma which the Buddha was to reveal to us are but the leaves in the Buddha's hand, but the leaves of the forest (the phenomena into which the Lord Buddha gained insight through his enlightenment) were still left for Him to consider subsequent to His Enlightenment. Eventually, he came to consider the reason for his having renounced the world from the time of leaving the palace up to his Enlightenment. He remembered that the realization of his own suffering had caused him to leave the palace. He saw the suffering of Yasodharaa of his son Raahula. He realized that to stay in the palace would be to suffer from the fetters of suffering without end. He had made a vow to himself that if he could find an end to suffering then he would lead the other beings of the world also to an end of suffering. He realized that this had been his vocation ever since the first lifetime when he had started to look for Buddhahood, floating in the endless watery oblivion of the ocean with his drowning mother upon his shoulders. He realized that it had come to time for him to proclaim Dhamma to the world - it was something he had aimed to do since the beginning twenty asa"nkhaya kappas ago. On the day of his Enlightenment, he had fulfilled his vocation to the extent of achieving Enlightenment himself, but now it remained for him to fulfil the second part of his resolve and teach to the others of the world.

He considered who would be able to appreciate the Dhamma he had uncovered. The Dhamma was so subtle that it would be a rare person who would appreciate it. Even the Buddha himself, with all the marks of a great man and so many lifetimes in his past of pursuing Perfections, still had to waste six years in the discovery of the Dhamma, staking his own life for the knowledge - how much harder would it be for others to understand? He would have to consider his first disciples carefully, because if his first sermon gave no effect, his dispensation would immediately founder on the rocks. His decision about suitable disciples was also important because the way he chose his disciples would later be used as an example by others when choosing who to teach in places never exposed to Buddhism before. We see that he didn't base his decision on himself, or the majority, but on Dhamma itself. If he were to make the decision based on himself (i.e. selfishly) then surely he would choose his own relations or those closest to him at the time before his renunciation as first priority - to teach to Yasodharaa or Raahula first. However, the Buddha used the quality of inner experience as the most important in his decision. He had to ask himself who was the most adept in the Eightfold Path. He asked himself "who, in this age, is the most free from defilements? Who has made the most progress in their meditation?" He could think of two such persons:

Aa.laara Kalama Hermit: who had been the meditation teacher who had been able to impart to him the way to attain the aki~nca~n~naayatana (third) level of aruupajhaana. If in the words of Luang Phaw Wat Paknam, we could say that Aa.laara had made significant progress in his meditation because he had already attained the subtle human body, the angelic body, the Brahmaa body and the formless Brahmaa body. He would be almost on the brink of attaining the Dhammakaaya. The Buddha thought to teach this hermit first, but having checked with the knowledge of the Dhammakaaya he found that Aa.laara had just passed away seven days ago and would now have to spend an exceedingly long lifetime in the formless Brahmaa-world. He might not even have the chance to hear the teachings of the next Buddha, let alone this one!

Udaka Raamaputta Hermit: who had been the meditation teacher who had been able to impart meditation to him up to the level of the nevasa~n~naanaasa~n~naayatana (fourth) level of aruupajhaana. Udaka was only one inner body away from attaining Dhammakaaya. The Buddha thought to teach Udaka but on checking by meditation, found that Udaka had passed away only the day before.

It appeared that the macchumaara (demons of death) had done their job well - and had disposed of the two best potential disciples the Buddha could find. If the Buddha had managed to convert Aa.laara or Udaka, he would have converted the disciples of these two teachers throughout the land. It was as if Maara had deprived the Buddha of countless potential disciples by disposing of these two teachers.

The next person the Buddha was to think of was Ko.n.da~n~na who had been at His side since he renounced the comfort of the palace. He realized that in the present day and age, it would be hard to find his equal. He saw in his meditation that Ko.n.da~n~na was still alive and well and living in the Isipatana Deer Park. This is why the Buddha made the journey to teach his first sermon there on the full moon day of the eighth lunar month.

Dhammakayacakkapavattana Sutta: Content


Thus have I heard, that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Benares in the Deer Park at Isipatana. There he addressed the Group of Five monks as follows:

1.1 Kaamasukhallikaanuyoga: indulgence in the various sensual pleasures is harmful in the following ways:

1.1.1 Hiino: It makes the mind coarse and clouded;

1.1.2 Gammo: (this word literally means "householder") It is the reason why people settle for the household life;

1.1.3 Pothujjaniko: It makes the mind collect defilements and become engrained with them;

1.1.4 Anariyo: It is the reason one cannot escape the clutches of the defilements;

1.1.5 Anathasa.mhito: It is unprofitable.

1.2 Attakilamathaanuyoga: the ascetic practice of self-mortification which is harmful in at least the following three ways:

1.2.1 Dukkho: It brings needless suffering on yourself;

1.2.2 Anariyo: It is the reason one cannot escape the clutches of the defilements;

1.2.3 Anathasa.mhito: It is unprofitable.

The Buddha had to mention these two extremes right from the beginning of the sermon because in contemporary religious practice there were two main schools of thought. The first school of thought taught to eat, drink and be merry and one day one will find true happiness which will be everlasting. Prince Siddhattha had tried this for himself since his time in the royal palace and found that it was ineffective. The Group of Five knew this too, so the sermon started from something they could agree upon. It also warned the Group of Five not to slip back into worldly ways. However, the school of thought which advocated self-mortification was like a cloud blocking the light of the sun in the spiritual thought of those days. Many people in those days were interested to liberate themselves from suffering, but because the strongest spiritual trend of the time was the practice of self-mortification, many went astray or perished in their quest. Having tormented themselves they had the feeling that their sensual lust was diminished and they thought that if they tormented themselves to the utmost, they would attain true happiness. No-one knows who originated this school of thought - all you can say is that Maara had fooled a whole continent and a whole generation of people into inflicting pain on themselves. Even Prince Siddhattha was among those to be taken in by this school of thought - but luckily he realized the futility of it sooner than the others. The Group of Five hadn't agreed with him however and had opted to continue with their self-mortification, so at that time they had had to go their separate ways. There had been no anger between them, but they were subscribing to different schools of thought at that point.

Thus the Lord Buddha taught that neither of the extremes of sensual indulgence or self-mortification were profitable. This teaching was revolutionary, because it went beyond what any previous philosopher or religious leader had ever taught. Thus for the Buddha to deny the truth of these two schools of thought, was to overturn all that had gone before.

The Buddha didn't just deny what had gone before - he offered a correct alternative. Normally this part of the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta is just translated:

"Avoiding both of these extremes, the Middle Way realized by the Tathagata - producing vision, producing knowledge - leads to calm, to supreme knowledge, to good knowledge, to extinction."

This is a literal translation, but it doesn't give us much clue how to adapt the teaching for our personal practice. However, if we look at how Luang Phaw Wat Paknam explained these same words, compiled from sermons he gave on many occasions:


O! Monks! The Middle Way [majjhimaa pa.tipadaa] which doesn't err towards the aforementioned extremes of practice, which I, the Buddha have attained [abhisambuddha] with utmost insight, will bring the following benefits to those who practice:

2.1 Cakkhukara.nii: Is of the nature to bestow the means of seeing according to reality. It was not that the Group of Five were blind - but they lacked the "inner eye" to see things according to reality;

2.2 ~Naa.nakara.nii: Is of the nature to bestow the means of knowing according to reality. It was not that the Group of Five were unaware of the reality of the world around them - but they lacked the "inner knowing" to understand the world according to reality;

What then was the "means", the "device", or the "where- withal" which the Buddha referred to which the Group of Five were lacking before their enlightenment? The Buddha was not yet to elaborate this point - but the reason why the Pa~ncavaggiya didn't immediately give up listening to the sermon in anger, was because they already had some degree of inner experience as a result of their practice. They would already know the meaning of such things as "inner brightness" and so what the Buddha was referring to in his sermon would simply be building upon experience they already had. They might already have had experience of "inner bodies" up to the level of the Brahmaa-body. Even though the Buddha didn't explain what the device was by which they could see and know according to reality, they could follow the gist of what he was explaining.

2.3 Benefits of Seeing and Knowing according to reality

The Buddha still had not explained what he meant by the Middle Way, but he elaborated on what benefits it would bring if practised correctly: to bestow the means of seeing and knowing according to reality. He explained that if one can see and know according to reality one gains the following benefits:

2.3.1 Upasamaaya: It can still the mind to a point where defilements are extinguished;

2.3.2 Abhi~n~naaya: It gives rise to supreme knowledge: knowledge that is superior even to that of the angelic body, the Brahmaa-body or the formless Brahmaa-body;

2.3.3 Sambodhaaya: It gives rise to knowledge of the Noble Truths;

2.3.4 Nibbaanaaya: It leads to complete extinction (attainment of Nirvana).

2.4 The Middle Way

Having explained the benefits of the Middle Way, the Buddha went on to explain what he meant by the Middle Way."And what is it about this Middle Way which bestows the means of seeing and knowing according to reality, which stills the mind to a point where the defilements are extinguished, which gives rise to supreme knowledge, which gives rise to a knowledge of the Noble Truths, which leads to complete extinction? The Middle Way is the Noble Eightfold Path which comprises:

1. Right View [Sammaa Di.t.thii]
2. Right Intention [Sammaa Sa"nkappa]
3. Right Speech [Sammaa Vaacaa]
4. Right Action [Sammaa Kammanta]
5. Right Livelihood [Sammaa Aajiiva]
6. Right Effort [Sammaa Vaayaama]
7. Right Mindfulness [Sammaa Sati]
8. Right Concentration [Sammaa Samaadhi]

This is the Middle Way realized by the Tathaagata which which bestows the means of seeing and knowing according to reality, which stills the mind to a point where the defilements are extinguished, which gives rise to supreme knowledge, which gives rise to a knowledge of the Noble Truths, which leads to complete extinction.